There was good, bad, and plenty of ugly for Yale Saturday afternoon against Brown, as the Bulldogs looked alternately confused and frustrated as a double-digit favorite against a Bears team it had run off its home court a week before.
Brown didn’t even have its leading scorer and biggest offensive threat in Leland King, either, and yet somehow Yale found itself down six at the half, and when Javier Duren missed a wide open breakaway dunk that allowed Tavon Blackmon to score seconds later, Brown looked like they may steal it.
But it was Duren who got sweet, sweet redemption in the end, hitting a stepback 15-footer with 3.6 seconds left to give a relieved Yale a 69-65 win and – as it turned out – put them up a game on Harvard who was simultaneously blowing a big lead and losing at home to Dartmouth.
“I’ll take it,” Duren – who finished with 24 points, 15 in the second half, said. “I just let my emotions get the best of me on that dunk. I have no words. We’ll take it.”
King was back in Providence for personal reasons according to Brown coach Mike Martin, which Yale didn’t know until they noticed he wasn’t warming up before the game. From the opening tip, Brown wanted to get inside to Rafael Maia and Cedric Kuakumensah, and with the referees calling the game extremely tight, it led to a parade to the free throw line and both coaches scrambling to go deeper into their benches than they normally would.
However, Steven Spieth found his niche as someone that could actually make free throws consistently (more on that in a second) and when JR Hobbie got loose for a three-pointer, Brown had opened up a 4-point lead and made it six at the break.
Yale made just six field goals in the first half and turned the ball over nine times. Justin Sears, who went 6-14 from the foul line a week ago in Providence, was 4-12 and it looked like it affected him elsewhere, as he scored just eight points before halftime.
“We haven’t done it (played a back-to-back) in a year,” Jones said. “Someone asked me that question. It doesn’t matter that much to me because you have to play what’s on your schedule. What you forget about, though, is how hard it is offensively that next weekend because they just saw you and they pick up what you did. Some of the stuff that worked really well last week they took away. Offensively in the first half, we just didn’t work hard enough to get good shots, and they made it hard.”
In fact, Sears came out and shot approximately 50 free throws at halftime while the rest of the team was warming up for the second half,not even joining the huddle before the teams came out.
In the end, it was Yale’s veterans who stepped up and turned a damaging loss into an ugly win. Duren, who was also called for a silly flagrant foul in the first half, scored seven straight at one point to give Yale its first lead of the second half, and the Bulldogs (13-6, 2-0) led 55-49 with 6:32 left after Martin picked up his second technical foul in as many Ivy League games.
But Hobbie hit another three and Blackmon continued to give Yale fits, allowing Brown (9-10, 0-2) to regain the lead on two more Spieth free throws 59-58 with 2:37 left.
From there it was senior Armani Cotton, whose first field goal attempt of the afternoon had been a huge tip-in a minute before, who drained a three-pointer to put Yale up and would hit two free throws after Blackmon tied the game again. Brown actually had the ball with a chance to break a 63-63 tie, but Spieth’s three-point attempt was long and Kuakumensah (who did not make a field goal while being limited to 16 minutes because of foul trouble) became the fourth player (two on each team) to foul out on the rebound.
Of course it was Sears he fouled, but Sears – after a somewhat lengthy delay and a little gamesmanship from Brown – drilled both free throws to give Yale a brief lead before Blackmon (15 pts, 5 assists) hit a driving layup to tie the game for the third time in the last 1:45. Yale did not call time out, and Duren found himself against Maia on a switch. Maia got close to Duren’s stepback winner, but it was a clutch shot that may look even bigger in the coming weeks.
With 3.6 seconds left, Brown chose to go long, but Sears intercepted it and again made both free throws to make him 7-7 in the second half at the line and Yale was 2-0 in the Ivy League.
“It’s just a little bit of focus, I guess,” Sears said. “I just have to get in the gym, get some more free throws (assistant coach Matt Simon joked afterward that his job might be in jeopardy because he was the one working with Sears after last week’s tough performance at the line). I got to practice at halftime and just focused more, the guys stayed with me and kept cheering me on. It’s a big weight off my shoulders that we won.”
Indeed, there was more relief than giddiness for the Bulldogs, who saw Matt Townsend and Sam Downey foul out in a combined 26 minutes. That was still much better than Dockery Walker, who actually showed some spark off the Brown bench, but didn’t have much time to show it, fouling out in just five minutes of action.
There were 54 fouls in all, and in addition to the four disqualifications, six players (three on each team) finished with four fouls. The net effect turned out to be fairly even, but it made for a disjointed game. It was a tough loss for Martin to swallow, his team had done so much well after last week’s poor performance, even more tough to take in the Ivy League, where an 0-2 start means any chance at the NCAA Tournament is likely gone already.
“They have two great players in Duren and Sears that played well for 40 minutes and they’re tough,” Martin said. “I thought we just made one less play than they did. We fought, and I thought we played really hard, just a little short.”
Sears finished just four off his career-high with 27 points, and as Jones was quick to point out, didn’t turn the ball over in 36 minutes. Other than Cotton’s late outburst, Yale got virtually nothing for anyone else, and that – along with Blackmon being as dominant as he was – are big concerns going into a Columbia-Cornell road trip next weekend.
For now, though, Yale can exhale and feel grateful – especially looking at what happened to rival Harvard – that its veterans came through in the end.
“This team is very versatile,” Jones said. “We can win without a bunch of guys having good performances. We won even though a guy like Jack (Montague) went 1-7 from the field and some other people struggled. Knowing that’s probably not going to happen too often is a good feeling.”